Below are synopses of current working papers and articles. Expressions of interest for publication, presentation and so on are welcome.
PhD Research: The Occultural Orpheus
Over the last 25 years, the development of Western Esotericism as field of scholarly endeavour has involved significant ‘boundary work’ as researchers constructed objective methodologies that addressed the assumptions of an earlier generation of researchers (e.g. the Eranos Foundation and Frances Yates). The work of this second generation of esoteric scholars fundamentally moved the study of esotericism away from assumptions of a sui generis religious perennialism, and toward a conception of religious and intellectual plurality, ultimately laying the foundations for the study of esotericism to develop as an interdisciplinary field. Two significant threads within the nascent ‘Western Esotericism 3.0’ have been the development of a historically-informed approach to the sociology of esotericism (e.g. the work of Kennet Granholm), and tentative exploration into cognitive bases for esoteric experiences (e.g. in the work of Egil Asprem). Common to both these developing areas of research are their relevance to contemporary, rather than historical, manifestations of esotericism. It is to the former area – a sociological approach to contemporary esotericism – that this research will contribute.
The research project will explore the integration of analytic autoethnography as a research method within the paradigm of Western Esotericism 3.0. It focuses in particular on my own development and experience as a musician who is deeply influenced by esoteric philosophy and the sense of esoteric experience evoked through musical practice. This report outlines the contexts and methodologies that inform the project: a primary intent of what follows is, therefore, to negotiate the place of autoethnography within the objective framework established by scholars of Western Esotericism. The secondary intent is to sketch out the relationship between esotericism and music, with particular emphasis on contemporary composers, in order to contextualise my own work, and outline broader avenues of research and theorisation that will complement the autoethnographic research.
A Field in England: Toward a Creative Methodology for Expressing the Occult Philosophy of Landscape
What can magical and occult philosophies, traditionally associated with invisible forces, bring to the experience of place and derivative creative works?
This first part of this paper focuses on the relationship between occult philosophy and the landscape, chiefly in England between 1500 and 1690. This particular period reflects not only the systematising of occult philosophies, via the transmission of Agrippa’s work, but also highlights changing attitudes to the landscape through processes of demonisation and desacralisation, which may be seen as antecedents to the so-called ‘disenchantment’ of the modern world.
The discussion that characterises the latter part of the paper asks how the ontologies and epistemologies of occult philosophy and ritual magic may be brought into the service of ‘re-enchantment’ as contemporary creative practice. Particular emphasis is placed on Voss’ methodology of the imagination and Cascone’s transcendigital aesthetic, toward developing potential methods for practice that seek to express landscape through a ‘new mediatory art’.
Comparative Sorcery: Chinese Ku and European Magic
Idris Shah observed that “a Chinese wizard of the Middle Ages and his Western counterpart might well have understood each other’s motives, and even certain rituals,” and there are striking parallels between Daoist magic and the prevailing traditions of magic in Europe. This essay occupies the middle ground between scholarship and magical dream: a temporally and geographically wide-ranging investigation of the connections evoked as a consequence of reading Feng and Shryock’s essay The Black Magic in China Known as Ku (1935). This essay is chiefly known for inspiring Kenneth Grant’s writings on ‘The Cult of the Ku’ in Hecate’s Fountain. However there are striking parallels between Ku magic and European sorcery and witchcraft that are worthy of serious investigation. The essay covers not only Grant, but further elaboratates on the symbolism and function of Ku magic within a native context, along with parallels in European witch-lore, demonology, medicine, rituals of soul bondage, lepidopeteric magic in folklore and grimoires, along with the role of insects-as-djinn in Arabic toxicology with reference to Ihya Ulum-id-din and Kitab al-sumum.